Google Chromecast and The Fourth Screen

Google's new Chromecast device is a $35 dongle that plugs into the HDMI port of an existing TV. Once plugged in, it turns your TV into a Chrome-enabled device that can instantly display streaming video and web content. It works by displaying the content of any other device, including Apple products, Windows products, laptops, phones, and tablets. To learn more about the user experience, here's a solid product review.

For $35, it's hard to go wrong with this purchase...

The content that can be displayed is "limited" to anything that can be see via the Chrome web browser and Chromecast-enabled apps (including Netflix and soon many others) running on another device. A minor benefit to this configuration (for users) is that costs and the form factor of the device are minor (no remote is needed, for example). The major benefit is for Google, however: you, the user, are already logged in with your gmail account via the other device. No additional steps are necessary for Google to have a complete understanding of your view history.

A fully-functional digital experience in the TV room is now in the visible near future (good for users). And, at such a low price, I see Chromecast as a Trojan Horse that will give Google access to the family TV -- the big prize in the merging battles for video content, advertising, and marketing (good for Google).

Because they have similar functionality, here's a few points of comparison with Apple TV:

  • Chromecast requires a device (almost any other device) to be the native host of the content that will be displayed on the TV, whereas iTunes runs on its own with a remote or app.
  • Chromecast enables anything that you can see through Chrome, notably the entire World Wide Web. Apple is primarily designed for displaying the content that you have purchased through iTunes.
  • When seeking video content, both enable “tv” and “movie” content via different methods. Apple has iTunes and Chromecast has a more fractured setup of Netflix, Google Play, and (soon) many other sources via its public API
  • Your Chromecast usage will eventually influence your overall Google experience (custom search results and shopping recommendations, for example). Use of iTunes and Apple TV does not currently influence your overall digital experience.

Three Screens or Four?
An influential research paper published by Google in the second half of 2012 gave momentum to the concept of "Three Screens". This concept describes how purchasing funnels and content consumption for any given customer now traverse three screens: PC/Laptop, Tablet, and Smartphone. Winning brands must 1) Optimize their user experience for multiple devices, and 2) Track customers across devices and provide seamless experiences across them.

In hindsight, however, this same research paper had dropped big hints regarding where Google might want to go regarding TV. If 2013 has been the year of "three screens", it is easy to surmise that Google hopes to usher in the era of "four screens" as soon as possible. Chromecast is fundamental to this strategy.

Google: "The New Multiscreen World". August 2012

Why is Chromecast significant? What will Google do with its new Trojan Horse? 
As with nearly all non-search services and products from Google, Chromecast is a means to an end. Google is not intending to drive meaningful profit from selling $35 devices. Instead, they hope to enable much bigger opportunities by getting these small devices into millions of TV rooms. My take on those opportunities...

  1. New User Data Points: Google will understand and eventually monetize how users interact with their “digital” experiences (smartphone, tablet, and laptops) and their “broadcast” experiences -- which refers to tv shows and movies with broadcast-level production values.
  2. AdWords: Enhanced Campaigns could be seen as a reactionary move for enabling better cross-device management of campaigns. It is also a pre-emptive move to handle an expanding set of device-types (Think: “voice on smartphones” and perhaps “Google Glass”). Google will learn how to include AdWords on the big screen, disrupting a massive industry and unlocking enormous opportunities for brands with true ROI reporting
  3. Google Video Ads: Advertising with Google goes beyond AdWords. Enabling "TrueView" video ads just become substantially more meaningful b/c low-cost video just became enabled for the big home screen.
  4. Google Play just became a real contender in the content distribution game, expanding their potential for big disruption beyond advertising and into "TV" and "movie" content itself. Also, the modest growth occurring with YouTube's Original Channels (see here for history), is about to get much bigger.
DMW Take for Brands:
Brands that still might be in the mindset of the text-based internet must shake off the dust and get into the video content game. Video is now inexpensive, fun, easily repurposed across multiple channels, and with trackable ROI (through assisted conversions). Specific recommendations include:

  1. Bring video into your POEM framework of Paid, Owned, and Earned media. Develop good habits around frequent creation of short video content. Best practices include incorporation of this video content into overall content calendar (that includes text and photo), and your full set of content channels.
  2. Responsive Web Design: As the home TV begins to solidify itself in the position of "The Fourth Screen", it will be yet one more reason to ensure that your primary websites are structured by responsive web design (the Boston Globe is still my favorite example). 
  3. If you haven't already, buy a Chromecast! For $35, it’s hard to go wrong. Play in this space and begin to understand the user experience. In this case, the experience is not about Chromecast, per se, but rather the broader four-screen paradigm. 

By Aaron Zwas -- Director of Emerging Technologies at Digital Marketing Works